A 13th-Degree Adventure
with the Sabian Symbols

by Blain Bovee


The Sabian Symbols are a set of 360 images, one for each degree of the zodiac, derived by Marc Edmund Jones and Elsie Wheeler in 1925. The popularity of the Sabian Symbols continues to grow amongst astrologers and others intrigued by the magic of words divinely inspired. The main challenge lies in how to understand and apply the often cryptic visions expressed. Exploring the Sabian Symbols is like a magical adventure. One may overhear a word or phrase while walking, or see something out of the ordinary, and suddenly be put in mind of one of the images — or a pair of opposite images on the wheel.

The Sabian Symbols can be applied to each planetary placement and the angles within a horoscope, augmenting their meaning within the horoscope as a whole. Noting the opposing symbols is highly recommended since the symbol-oppositions shed light on each other, amplifying the meaning in surprising ways. For example, a symbol may not seem to resonate with a planetary placement for the individual, but by reflecting on the opposing symbol, a whole world of sense opens up.

“Rehearse? We haven't even hearsed yet!”

While at a music festival, I heard a bandleader proclaim with a degree of pride that they never rehearse any of their material. Another band member piped in: “Rehearse? We haven’t even hearsed yet. How can we have rehearsed?”

This little bit of stage patter led me to wondering about the derivation of the word “rehearse” and any connection this may have with the Sabian Symbol pair for the 13th degree of Gemini: “A great musician at his piano,” and its opposite, the 13th degree of Sagittarius: “A widow’s past is brought to light.”

“Hearse” is a vehicle for conveying a dead person to the place of burial. The term derives from harrow, referring to the ornamental framework over a coffin resembling a harrow, a farm implement used to level plowed ground or break up clods. One would draw a harrow over a field in preparation for seeding, to remove weeds, to work the field into a consistency suitable for a new crop to grow in, and perhaps in so doing, turn up things that have been long buried beneath the surface.

In a mixture of the two symbols’ meanings, a great musician may well play a piece from memory, bringing it to light in a fresh rendition. The musician’s mastery over the instrument and repertoire of music is certainly based on years of rehearsal, going over pieces again and again. Rehearsing music is much like identifying difficult passages, breaking them up into finer pieces until they are rendered seamlessly with the work as a whole. I wondered what musicians I might find with placements in the 13th degree of Gemini or Sagittarius. Using Sabian Symbols, planets are considered within a given degree; that is, everything from 12 degrees, 0-59 minutes of arc, is in the 13th degree. Among musical masters I found:

  • Muddy Waters, famous blues performer and influence: Moon in the 13th degree of Sagittarius.
  • Composer Igor Stravinsky, a towering giant of 20th century music: Jupiter in the 13th degree of Sagittarius.
  • Keith Emerson of the pop music trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer, with so much energy he played two guitars at once: Moon in the 12th degree of Gemini, Uranus in the 13th Gemini, Venus in the 14th Sagittarius.

Other mixtures of the meanings of 13 Gemini, “A great musician at his piano,” and 13 Sagittarius, “A widow’s past is brought to light,” are certainly possible. A widow may rehearse her memories of the deceased husband, going over again and again the feelings and memories until they are brought into a new light. One can imagine a widow thinking of what has been, what might have been, and what is yet to be in the wake of an event that has caused emotional pain.

A “harrowing experience” is painful, distressing to the feelings. Recalling a harrowing experience is like hearing a familiar sad piece of music, which brings the feeling to the surface again. One might imagine a widow being asked about her long-departed husband, and be struck by what is brought to light. One might also imagine a great musician being asked to play a certain piece that he or she performs drawing on memory. In either case, there is no indication that drawing upon memory is necessarily a harrowing experience in the sense of being emotionally distressing. There may be bittersweet joy in recalling a loved one; there may be a delightful rendition shedding new light on a familiar piece played upon the piano. With that sense of “new light” we find:

  • Martha Graham, who created modern dance through artistic innovations that included bringing dance back down to its barefoot roots: Neptune in the 13th degree of Gemini.

Rehearsal, in the sense of drawing upon something from the past, suggests a tendency to repeatedly play the same passages over and over, therefore a possible dwelling on a painful memory, a buried memory, or arduously rehearsing to gain mastery of an instrument or piece of music, integrating emotion tinged with sorrow with new appreciation. In this sense, we have:

  • Rev. G. Vale Owen, a medium hosting a show, “The Weekly Dispatch” about life after death. He receives messages from beyond the grave by automatic writing. Talk about “rehearsing” through communication! Saturn in the 13th degree of Sagittarius.

Marc Edmund Jones was concerned about the so-called “reversed symbols” — symbols thought to have let a negative element into their creation. He identifies “A widow’s past brought to light” as one such reversed meaning. However, the degree-pair 13 Gemini/Sagittarius touches on a range of possibilities that need not be considered harrowing. On the contrary, there is a suggestion of having prepared the ground for something new and fresh, something seen in a new and fresh light, translating or reinterpreting from memory something which has been thoroughly gone over. Consider this example of one who practiced long and hard to master his profession:

  • Tiger Woods: Neptune in 13th Sagittarius, Moon in 14th Sagittarius.

Planets expressed through the symbols

The Sun’s placement within this degree-pair may manifest an identification with rehearsal themes, such that individuation is a path of self-mastery relating to a past defining event. The Moon may amplify the memory and emotional elements, for example in terms of the need to rehearse over and over issues that are key to one’s security. Mercury may indicate a mind that goes over the same ground like a harrow over a field of experience, analytically breaking down the constituent parts in order to understand and communicate the whole. Venus may well express a seductive, beautifying dimension in grave tones about past experience. Mars may express the need to work diligently in the field of experience: to rehearse hard; to make it work regardless of past difficulties. Jupiter may find elements of optimism and higher understanding while magnify respectful tones both melodic and uplifting. Saturn may resist planting new seeds of opportunity or expressing new renditions, and may over-stress the felt need to go over the past, perhaps even be stuck in the past out of a sense of responsibility. Uranus may shine new light with a lightning bolt flare on old standards. Neptune may manifest stylized dreamy nostalgia. Pluto may go to extremes, dig deeper, rehearse harder, and may rejuvenate with an all-or-nothing intensity.

Honoring the past, whether the many hours of rehearsing a challenging piece of music or recalling heartfelt experience, is the ground of experience from out of which new expressions are brought to light. In retrospect, hours of hard practice can be appreciated for the command of a musical instrument: the fullness of mastery. In retrospect, the loss of a loved one is the ground upon which new meaning can be born: an appreciation of a life well lived. Both suggest a new tune, a new interpretation of something of compelling personal meaning.

Famous examples illustrating one planetary placement through the degree-opposition Sabian Symbols can be fun, exclamatory and intriguing. But of course, it is the horoscope taken as a whole that speaks the loudest, most compelling story. Begin your exploration of the Sabian Symbols by considering each symbol opposition for all planets and points. This opens up a new world of meaning potentials, and knowing your own Sabian Symbols, you too will experience something like the rehearsal quip that will shower you with new insights into yourself and into the magic of the Sabian Symbols.

Blain Bovee’s book, The Sabian Symbols & Astrological Analysis: The Original Symbols Fully Revealed, is due out from Llewellyn this month, November 2004.